The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera was educated at UCLA and Stanford University, and he earned his MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His numerous poetry collections include 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007, Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), and Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999). In addition to publishing more than a dozen collections of poetry, Herrera has written short stories, young adult novels, and children’s literature. In 2015 he was named U.S. poet laureate.
In a 2004 interview at CSU-Fresno, Herrera noted the influences of three distinct Californias—the small agricultural towns of the San Joaquin Valley he knew as a child, San Diego’s Logan Heights, and San Francisco’s Mission District—on his work: “all these landscapes became stories, and all those languages became voices in my writing, all those visuals became colors and shapes, which made me more human and gave me a wide panorama to work from.” Influenced by Allen Ginsberg, Herrera’s poetry brims with simultaneity and exuberance, and often takes shape in mural-like, rather than narrative, frames. Critic Stephen Burt praised Herrera in the New York Times as one of the first poets to successfully create “a new hybrid art, part oral, part written, part English, part something else: an art grounded in ethnic identity, fueled by collective pride, yet irreducibly individual too.”